With ro­ta­tion un­cer­tain, A’s pon­der “open­ers” as camp opens

Porterville Recorder - - SPORTS -

Like ev­ery other pitcher in the Oak­land Ath­let­ics’ deep bullpen, Liam Hen­driks is ex­pect­ing to pitch a lot this sea­son.

The tricky ques­tion for man­ager Bob Melvin go­ing into spring train­ing: Who gets to go first?

The Ath­let­ics ro­ta­tion is a ma­jor un­cer­tainty head­ing into camp, with the first work­out for pitch­ers and catch­ers set for Mon­day. Of course, that’s noth­ing new for Melvin. Oak­land’s ro­ta­tion was wrecked by in­juries last sea­son, prompt­ing the A’s to lean on their re­lief pitch­ers as “open­ers” to start games. With at least three spots in the ro­ta­tion cur­rently wide open, Oak­land might again be forced to get cre­ative with the early in­nings.

Hen­driks be­came the most de­pend­able in that role last sea­son, mak­ing nine of the 10 “opener” starts for Oak­land in Septem­ber and Oc­to­ber, in­clud­ing in the AL wild­card game against the Yan­kees.

The makeshift bullpen games helped the A’s earn a sur­pris­ing post­sea­son ap­pear­ance, and Hen­driks is ea­ger to re­turn to the role. He’s ready to pitch ev­ery other day if asked — “I’d love to be able to get to 81 games pitched, just to be able to say I did it,” he said.

Melvin smiled at that sug­ges­tion, but he hopes

Oak­land’s staff won’t have to be quite so un­tra­di­tional.

“We’re open to just about any­thing,” Melvin said. “But I don’t know if we’re fix­ated on go­ing into spring right away say­ing, ‘We’re go­ing to start with an opener on this game.’ I haven’t sched­uled it out that way.”

The Ath­let­ics are getting an early start on spring train­ing be­cause they’re head­ing to Ja­pan for a sea­son-open­ing series on March 20-21. The teams will be al­lowed ex­panded 28-man rosters for those games, and Melvin ex­pects to use the ex­tra ros­ter space to more care­fully man­age his pitch­ers.

“That will al­low us to do things at our pace,” Melvin said. “It’s more about the pitch­ing than any­thing else and mak­ing sure they’re ready. With some ex­tra guys, it means we don’t have to push guys to try to get some­body ready to throw 100 pitches in this game (in Tokyo). I don’t know if that’s re­al­is­tic.”

Be­sides Mike Fiers and new­comer Marco Estrada, noth­ing is set in the ro­ta­tion. Estrada bat­tled hip and back prob­lems last sea­son while with the Blue Jays, yet still made 28 starts, post­ing a 7-14 record and 5.64 ERA.

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